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Nymphomaniac Volume One


Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen, Michael Pas, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier

Director: Lars Von Trier

Has one-of-a-kind filmmaker Lars Von Trier made a porn film masquerading as art?

Given that there are more graphic sexual organs on display than I saw in the first six months of my time as a medical student, it’s a pretty obvious question.

I don’t think so.

True the film is sex-saturated but, given it’s the story of a woman dedicated to nymphomania, that’s shouldn’t come as a surprise. In fact Von Trier may use graphic sexual imagery – the most graphic and frequent ever depicted in a mainline movie – but there’s a point and that point isn’t titillation. Von Trier has serious points to make about sexuality and he makes them without shirking but not gratuitously.

(Indeed, he often uses black humour as a catalyst, most notably when organ music accompanies vivid shots of male members!)

Given access on the web to anything and everything (in this respect Jack Nicholson’s celebrated quote: “There's so much darn porn on the internet, I never get out of the house” makes the point better than I could), Von Trier’s film – while not for the faint of heart where graphic sex is concerned - makes its points creatively and not smuttily.

The film opens artily – a blank screen followed by shots of a grubby alley. It is old bachelor Skellan Skarsgård (giving a clever, laid back performance) who finds self-diagnosed Charlotte Gainsbourg who has been beaten up and left to freeze to death. He brings her back to his flat, cares for her wounds and then listens to the story of her life…

“It was my fault”, she tells me, “I’m just a bad human being”. Which view she justifies with the saga of her erotic adolescence and young adulthood. Gainsbourg’s brave, not to say everything-goes bravura performance, is highly impressive as it the equally open portrayal of her younger life by Stacy Martin…

Key roles are well cast and strongly played. Christian Slater impresses as her doctor-father, Connie Neilsen “a cold bitch” is icily convincing as her mother and, minus the paper bag over his head that graced his film-promoting appearance at the Berlin Film Festival, Shia LaBeouf makes the most of his role in a unique film whose second part, ‘Nymphomania Volume Two’ needs to be seen in order to rate the entire work.

Alan Frank

Denmark/Germany/France/Belgium/UK 2013. UK Distributor: Artificial Eye. Colour.
117 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 17 Feb 2014